Los Angeles Dodgers: Playing Patience or Panic with Team's 5 Worst Early Slumps

Jeremy DornAnalyst IIIApril 8, 2014

Los Angeles Dodgers: Playing Patience or Panic with Team's 5 Worst Early Slumps

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    Lenny Ignelzi

    Are you familiar with the popular baseball phrase "small sample size?" Well, that's what we're dealing with here. I won't sugarcoat it. One week and eight games of baseball is not nearly enough to measure who is "slumping" or "surging."

    But every game truly does count, so the quicker the Dodgers who are struggling can snap out of it, the sooner they can distance themselves from the rest of the NL West.

    Right now, a few of the big bats are struggling, but the depth of the stacked lineup has allowed the Dodgers to continue playing well and winning ball games. But for the ones who are slumping, is it time for Dodgers fans to panic? Or is it time to take a step back and exercise some patience?

    Here are five guys who are fighting early struggles in Los Angeles, and whether or not they can snap out of it.

     

Adrian Gonzalez

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    Jae C. Hong

    2014 stats: .179 BA, .666 OPS, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 4 BB, 8 K

    Let's cut to the chase here. There is absolutely no doubt that Gonzalez will snap out of his funk. He's been one of the most consistent hitters in baseball for years and was the Dodgers' offensive leader in most categories a season ago.

    The stats may not reflect it so far, but Gonzalez is actually swinging the bat well. He hit multiple fly outs to the warning track in pitcher-friendly Petco Park and has hit a few more on the nose right at fielders. Eventually, those will drop and Gonzalez's average will skyrocket.

    One curious stat is that Gonzalez, usually very reliable against southpaws, is just 1-for-10 this season with six strikeouts against his pitching counterparts. That average, too, will likely rise, but it's something to keep an eye on as the season progresses. The Dodgers can't afford another lefty who can't hit a lick against lefties.

    The bottom line is that Gonzalez will snap out of his very early funk and Dodgers fans will have nothing to worry about.

    Verdict: Patience

Brian Wilson

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    Paul Sancya

    2014 stats: 0-1, 18.00 ERA, 3.00 WHIP, 1 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 1 HR, 1 BB, 2 K, .333 BAA

    This is a little bit unfair to Wilson. We know he's pitching his way back from a DL stint right now after injuring a nerve in his pitching elbow. For now, it seems like he's avoided significant injury to that arm for the third time in his career, which is an encouraging sign.

    He had a good first appearance in Sydney against the Diamondbacks, but got rocked in his second before being placed on the DL. We know what Wilson can do, especially after his nearly flawless half=season in Los Angeles last year, but is this a potential problem for the Dodgers?

    Wilson was a very good closer in San Francisco and earned himself a $10 million deal with the Dodgers after last year, but he hasn't been an elite reliever forever. He's not getting any younger and throws with reckless abandon. The Dodgers also made sure to strengthen the right-handed crop of relievers in their bullpen by signing Chris Perez.

    Maybe there was something more to that signing than originally thought if the Dodgers were worried about Wilson's arm. Losing a set-up man is a terrifying proposition, but the possibility is very real with Wilson's medical history. As far as his performance goes, it's not time to panic yet. But he could be ineffective, and if that happens, there will be a legitimate reason to panic, despite Chris Withrow's potential in that role.

    Verdict: Panic

     

Carl Crawford

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    2014 stats: .227 BA, .534 OPS, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 7 K

    Crawford is much less of a sure thing than Gonzalez. The former All-Star has seen a significant drop in production across almost all categories, and he too has struggled with injuries. With four starting outfielders for three spots, is Crawford playing himself into the "odd man out" position?

    In the big trade with Boston that brought Gonzalez over, many fans considered Crawford a throw-in piece who may or may not be able to contribute and a long shot to return to his Tampa Bay form. In hindsight, Crawford proved more valuable than expected when healthy in 2013.

    The beginning of this year hasn't been as promising, and in a few different at-bats, Crawford has looked absolutely lost on breaking balls with two strikes. We know Yasiel Puig will be in right field whenever possible, and Matt Kemp's early returns on his health look promising. With Andre Ethier a better defender and swinging a hot bat right now, Crawford may have dropped to fourth on the depth chart.

    But does all this mean it's time to panic about Crawford's slow start? Only if you expect more than a .270 batting average, 10 home runs, 50 RBI and 15 steals out of that aging body. Those numbers would be perfectly valuable in the Dodgers' current lineup, but probably not strong enough to warrant a starting spot.

    Chances are, Crawford will have a pretty good year if he stays healthy, so it's definitely not time to panic yet. But he might just play his way out of the left field starting job if he doesn't fix that swing in a hurry.

    Verdict: Patience

Jose Dominguez

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    Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

    2014 stats: 0-0, 12.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 3 G, 3 IP, 2 H, 4 ER, 1 HR, 2 BB, 5 K, .182 BAA

    You may look up at that batting average against through three games this season for the flame-throwing righty and find yourself confused at the rest of the line. It is strange that Dominguez has been so dominant with such poor statistics.

    To be fair, Dominguez is only in the majors because of Wilson's injury. He pitched in Australia when the rosters were slightly expanded and got rocked in game two by the Diamondbacks. After a stellar two innings against the Giants last Friday, Dominguez was tagged by Buster Posey for a home run on Saturday.

    The Dodger fan base was infatuated with Dominguez when he got the call-up last season because of his triple-digit fastball, but he's always struggled a bit with control. Dominguez is only 23 years old and has shown flashes of potential, so get used to seeing him yo-yo between Triple-A and the big leagues; however, he's not quite grounded enough yet to become a full-time fixture in the 'pen.

    So, is it time to worry about the phenom? Not at all. Dominguez will go back down to the minor leagues, hone that control a bit and prepare himself for his next inevitable call-up. We'll keep an eye on his minor league numbers, but if the past is any indication, Dominguez just needs a little bit of time.

    Verdict: Patience

A.J. Ellis

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    2014 stats: .167 BA, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 4 BB, 6 K, .477 OPS

    Of all the struggling hitters in this lineup, A.J. Ellis may be off to the slowest start. It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, though. Outside of the roller coaster that is Dee Gordon, Ellis is the most offensively challenged starter on the team.

    With news today of Ellis' impending knee surgery, per the Dodgers' Twitter account, he'll have four to six weeks to consider tweaking something for his return to cure his hitting woes. B/R's Joseph Zucker provides some background here. So far, it's been ugly. Ellis has drawn a fair amount of walks, per the usual, but has also struck out six times and has yet to record an RBI.

    Though Dodgers fans can always count on a high on-base percentage and above-average defense from their beloved backstop, he's no Joe Mauer. Ellis isn't going to approach .300 or hit for power, but he will be a consistent guy on both sides of the ball. So, no reason to worry, right?

    Wrong. Ellis declined offensively last season and really struggled for a large part of the summer months. He picked it up a bit at the end of the season, but was mostly a nonfactor with the bat. At age 33, Ellis already has a lot of mileage on those knees and is facing this upcoming surgery now. How much longer will he realistically be able to get down in that crouch and give the Dodgers quality innings behind the dish?

    If he has any setbacks or struggles to regain his form upon returning, the Dodgers are stuck with a pretty awful duo of Drew Butera (according to FanGraphs.com, one of the worst hitters by wOBA of all time) and disappointing prospect Tim Federowicz. That alone should strike a little fear into the fans' hearts.

    Verdict: Panic